Voting in My America
We’re down to the wire. 24 hours from now, I will have cast my vote and will have no choice, but to wait it out like the rest of you. Over the last year, I’ve spoken at length about the kind of America I see and the challenges we face. The choice for women, the poor, the unemployed and the underemployed, immigrants, all Americans of color, veterans, homosexuals and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, those in need – the choice should be a clear one. In this past year, I have urged you to understand the issues, educate yourselves and think, not just of yourself, think of all Americans… and vote.
Vote. I’ve repeated that mantra for months on end, knowing there were people in this country who don’t want you to vote. We watched in horror as day after day, voter suppression laws were enacted, state by state, in order to disenfranchise large blocks of voters that traditionally vote Democratic. We’ve listened ad nauseam about how the new Voter I.D. laws have been put in place to defend the integrity of the vote from “rampant voter fraud”. Analysis has proven that of the hundreds of millions of votes cast in this country since 2000, there have been 633 documented cases of voter fraud, with just 3 of them being in-person voter fraud, making the percentage – infinitesimal – something like one in every 15 million votes cast. Most of those cases were incidents where people took absentee ballots to nursing homes and filled them out for people like Alzheimer patients. Voter ID laws are a solution looking for a problem. But the Republicans are proud of their efforts to suppress the vote. They’ve even bragged about it publicly.
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) suggested that the House’s end game in passing the Voter ID law was to benefit the GOP politically. “Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done. “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” Mr. Turzai admitted the Voter I.D. law was put in place for the sole purpose of delivering Pennsylvania to the Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney should be ashamed of that. Turzai later claimed his comments were ‘mischaracterized’ by the press. No, Sir. They weren’t. Videotape. It’s called videotape.
I’ve run for public office on three occasions, winning all three races for City Council. As a Councilwoman, I was reviled by many of my constituents because unlike my predecessors, I would not make exceptions to the law for individuals. Nor did I support laws that would have unfairly affected anyone. Years later, I have been asked to run again by some of the same people who screamed at me in those public meetings. They tell me they didn’t always agree with me but I was fair and never behaved in a manner that would benefit me personally. They also recognized I researched the issues and came armed with a reasoned argument for my position. While I have no interest in ever running for office again, those conversations always make me proud of the work I did there. Turns out it is not always thankless, even if it took them years to realize what I was trying to accomplish. I got my community better roads, a Community Development Block Grant for two million dollars that funded a municipal water system these people had never had and exposed irregularities within our municipal police force that prompted a criminal investigation against one of our officers resulting in a conviction. I made Hooterville a better place to live and folks, that ain’t nothin’. That is what public service is meant to be. I was approached by the State Republican Party to fill a position in the State Legislature for my district and politely declined, explaining I am a lifelong Democrat. They claimed not to care, insisting they wanted a principled person for the job, but still, I declined. I watch the votes of my State Legislature as closely as I watch the national issues and the Republican Party in my state disgusts me. Again, I politely declined. I could not sleep knowing my name could be affiliated with people who vote to enact laws that eliminate the rights of women, made it easier for people to carry guns with little oversight, forced drug-testing on welfare recipients, watered down domestic violence laws to the benefit of the abusers and made sure the rights of those who wish to disrupt education with school prayer became more important than the rights of those who came to school to, you know, maybe learn something. When declining the offer to run, I explained why in pretty much these terms and now the State Republican Party and I are no longer on speaking terms. Seems I’m not their girl after all. I can live with that. So much for principles. (Laughing as I write that last part.)
What is not funny, are the long lines we
witnessed over the weekend in Florida and Ohio. Both Governors tried to eliminate but ended up drastically cutting early voting there because early voting, well, that just benefits the Democrats. And still, in places like Florida, people stood in line for more that 6 hours, some not casting their votes until one o’clock in the morning. People have had to take days off work, find babysitters, spend money on unnecessary birth certificates and marriage licenses and state issued I.D. for the sole purpose of doing what they’ve always been able to do by birthright – be a participant in Democratic government and have a voice. I’ve yet to be given one valid excuse as to why that is a bad thing. While in power, Republicans have gerrymandered districts, redrawing the lines to benefit their party. They have enacted what I call, “Jaime Crow Laws”, systematizing the disenfranchisement of ethnic groups to the benefit of the GOP. Forcing seniors to spend upward of hundreds of dollars to get documents, some of which don’t exist for people born at home early in the 20th Century, are nothing more than a modern poll tax. If Republicans make it so financially or logistically impossible for someone to vote, that citizen is likely to surrender their right to do so. Ultimately that’s why early voting was suspended in so many swing states. When you have to take food and water and a chair to relieve your tired body to exercise your right to vote, then someone is going out of their way to make it harder to do so. I don’t know a lot of elderly people with the physical strength to endure 6 hour lines to vote, and the people making it harder to vote count on that.
This is possibly the saddest piece I’ve ever written in my time as The Opinionated Bitch. I’m sad that we’ve devolved into a nation where cheating your way to power is exalted. When a political party must rig the system to ensure victory, some introspection is in order, considering that perhaps if you must go through so many contortions to manipulate the outcome, your ideas simply suck. If none of the last four years of working so hard to rig the vote had happened and my choice of candidates lost their races, I could live with that. I can live with the idea there are more people who disagree with my positions and their choice for leadership was put in place. That’s what makes me different from those who support Voter I.D. Laws and the modern Jaime Crow Laws. I have no fear of letting the chips fall where they may. I have no interest in stopping people who disagree with me from voting and all I’m asking for is in-kind treatment for everyone.
I’ve never asked my readers for a single thing, but today, that all changes. I’m asking that, no matter how long you must stand in line, no matter how thirsty or hungry or tired you get, stand in that line until you have exercised the most fundamental right we have as citizens and cast your vote. Please take along bottled water and food and maybe even a folding chair. Take enough to share with a fellow American waiting in line who may be suffering from hunger or dehydration. Make sure you’ve checked and double-checked that you have all of the necessary documentation to ensure your right to cast that ballot. The polls will be loaded with people who will challenge your vote. Don’t let them do it. Stand your ground. Insist on voting and if they force you to cast a provisional ballot, even if you have to get help from a friend to complete it, make sure you’ve completed it dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”, or they will absolutely throw it out, just so your vote won’t count. Don’t permit anyone to convince you to vote straight ticket. Go through the ballot line by line, voting for each candidate individually, as some ballots are deceptively designed to make you vote for President separately, which is easy to overlook. Carefully read ballot initiatives. Many have been deceptively crafted to make you think you’re voting against something, when you’re actually voting for it. The text of ballots is available on line and you have the opportunity to study them in context in advance of arriving at the ballot. You can take notes into the voting booth with you and of course, you can take a friend who is absolutely permitted to assist you, if you like. Of course, make sure you are registered to vote and confirm your polling place here, prior to going to the polls. It’s the best way to make sure they can’t turn you away after standing in line for hours. Finally, when you’re done, don’t simply hand the ballot over and walk away. Make sure it goes into a locked box or is processed through one of the voting machines (that’s a topic for another day) before you leave. Trust no one but your own eyes. And finally, take a smart phone or a camera with you. If someone attempts to stop you from voting, take their picture, demand their name and demand to know who they represent and then notify the FBI at 1 866 687 8683. Regardless of the billboards attempting to scare people away from the polls, voter suppression is voter fraud… and it’s a crime. I’m just the kind of person who, if someone is working so hard to stop me from doing something so basic as voting, I’m more determined than ever to defy them on principle alone.
Finally, I will leave you with this quote from the late Isaac Asimov, American author and Professor of Biochemistry at Boston University: “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”
So endeth the lesson.
Carol Baker is a free-lance political writer and sometimes satirist. She is a regular contributor to Here Women Talk.
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